Carrie Compere is Ready to Channel Sister Rosetta Tharpe in ‘Shout Sister Shout!’

When I spoke with actress Carrie Compere mere days before Shout Sister Shout! rehearsals were scheduled to begin at Seattle Rep, her excitement surrounding Sister Rosetta Tharpe and this play was palpable.

“I think the thing that I’m most excited about, is for people to hear about who she was,” Compere said, adding that Tharpe’s contribution to rock and roll wasn’t just musical, it was cultural as well. “That this beautiful black woman from the middle of nowhere influenced so much of what we hear today—I’m just glad her name is going to start to ring out there, you know?”

And as we continued to discuss The Godmother of Rock ‘N’ Roll, that excitement only grew.

Actor Carrie Compere who will play Rosetta Tharpe in ‘Shout Sister Shout!’. Courtesy of Seattle Rep

Danielle Mohlman: I’ll admit that I didn’t learn about Sister Rosetta Tharpe until probably two years ago when the book that Shout Sister Shout! is based on started making the rounds again. I was like “Who’s this? I need to know more!”

Carrie Compere: Yeah and it’s so cool because the first time I ever heard about Rosetta Tharpe—the very first time I ever heard her name mentioned—I happened to be on my first tour that I was in. And we were in Memphis and went to go visit Graceland. And there was a man there with a small group of people—I don’t know if they were his family or if he was giving a tour or what. And he sounded like he was from Great Britain. He was the one who mentioned her! And he was talking about how Elvis had been influenced by Sister Rosetta. And the way he talked about her, he was so excited, and I was just like, “Oh this woman must have been something else.” You know? Because that was the very first time I’d ever heard about her. And to now know who she really was and what she did for music is really amazing.

Yeah. And one thing I find really fascinating, the more I learn about her and the more she comes up in these pop culture conversations, is the fact that her queerness was left out of the conversation for a very long time.

And the play has tones of that, but it’s not overt. And I think that—now, I don’t know—but I think that’s just out of respect for how Rosetta handled it in her own life. She never really talked about it in a public forum. Behind closed doors, when she was in areas where she felt comfortable, that was something she felt free to display. But in the script, they do touch on her relationship with Marie Knight and how they loved each other beyond the sisterly way. But they build it in a way that’s respectful to Rosetta.

Christin Byrdsong and Carrie Compere in 'Shout, Sister, Shout!' at Seattle Rep.
Christin Byrdsong and Carrie Compere in ‘Shout, Sister, Shout!’ at Seattle Rep. Photo by Bronwen Houck

And it’s wonderful to hear you portray it that way—in respect to her and the way she lived her life. Because it was a completely different time and it wasn’t safe to be public about sexuality—not in that way.

Absolutely. And she was a woman who came from not only American culture where it was such a taboo [in the 1930s and 1940s] but also in the church culture.

Do you have a favorite Sister Rosetta Tharpe song? Maybe one you’re excited to dig into in rehearsal?

I don’t know if I have a favorite. I love “Up Above My Head” and the words are so simple. “Up above my head, I hear music in the air.” I think the reason why I love it so much is because I’ve watched her perform it over and over and over again. I’ve been watching videos of her and—I’m going to get emotional right now—but once she’s singing it, you know that she’s talking about something more than just these lyrics. She’s just so rooted and grounded in gospel music—and in the message that she wanted to bring to the world. She’s a woman of faith. And I am as well. And it resonates so deeply with me, you know? And it’s an upbeat song. (Sings) “Up above my head / I hear music in the air / And I really do believe / There’s a Heaven somewhere.”

And you know she believes that. And she’s singing it and she’s playing her guitar and she’s sweating—and she’s giving everything. You know, in the book Shout, Sister, Shout!—and I’m paraphrasing this—one of her friends said there’s a difference between just singing the song and having a relationship with the words you’re singing about. And that’s who Rosetta was. It went so far beyond just the music.

Chaz Rose and Carrie Compere in 'Shout, Sister, Shout!' at Seattle Rep.
Chaz Rose and Carrie Compere in ‘Shout, Sister, Shout!’ at Seattle Rep. Photo by Bronwen Houck

Do you have a favorite moment from the play that you’re really looking forward to digging into in the rehearsal room?

Oh man. Right now I’m learning the electric guitar and acoustic guitar. Because that’s how she established herself in rock and roll, with her picking. I am excited and terrified to really dig into the actual play. And I feel completely supported by our creative team and our music department. But before this experience, I had never played guitar before in my life. So, for me, this was something that on the onset looked insurmountable. So, it’s just been me spending time with the guitar. Sometimes I will literally just strap the guitar on my shoulder and just walk around the house—just really trying to develop a relationship with this instrument.

Because for Rosetta it wasn’t just her instrument. It was an extension of who she was. And sometimes when she wasn’t being confident—when she wasn’t speaking—you could see the way she was holding the guitar, as if she was speaking through the guitar. She was using the guitar to express what she was trying to say, or to support what she was saying. And Rosetta! Oh my god, her speed? Her tempo? It’s otherworldly. It’s amazing what this woman did.

Shout Sister Shout! runs now through December 22 at Seattle Rep. Tickets are available online or by calling 206.443.2222.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American TheatreThe Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

David Fischer brings the Award-Winning Film ‘Shakespeare in Love’ to the Stage

As executive director of Tacoma Arts Live, David J. Fischer helps create shows that draw the community to the organization’s historic venues. A perfect example of his involvement is the current run of Shakespeare in Love, a play which reveals a little bit of the agony and the glory of creating live theatre.

The script by Tom Stoppard, Lee Hall and Marc Norman presents a highly comedic and fictional speculation on how William Shakespeare came to write Romeo and Juliet. Filled with inside jokes, theatre geeks around the world fell in love with the original movie and subsequent stage shows. The oft repeated line “It’s a mystery” refers not only to romance, but to how a jumble of ideas can become a moving work of art on the stage.

We talked to Fischer about the enduring appeal of Shakespeare in Love and live theatre.

Rosemary Jones: Now that the show has opened, where are you hearing the big laughs? 

David Fischer: Every audience is different, but I think some of the biggest laughs come when the “loan shark,” who lends money to produce the play, falls in love with the theatrical process. He gets swept up in the joy of production. That infectious energy is something we all feel, in the cast and backstage. That, I think, is what the audience enjoys so much about Shakespeare in Love.

What surprises you most about the audience reaction?

I love that the audience so eagerly immerses themselves into the world of Elizabethan theatre. There is a great curiosity to have the curtain pulled back and reveal both a different time and a sameness to today.

Tacoma Arts Live Executive Director David Fischer. Courtesy of Tacoma Arts Live

The movie leaps from location to location as Will runs through London. When you bring this script back to the stage, what are some of the challenges in keeping the action moving and the audience clear on the location?

Many of the film’s settings are duplicated in the stage script, and this is a challenge. We don’t have the luxury of editing. So, this script needs to flow cinematically from place to place. We achieve this through a minimalist approach to stage furniture, and use actors, costumes, music and lighting to move us from place to place. The cast skillfully meets the choreographic demands and keeps the action flowing from moment to moment.

For Shakespeare buffs, there’s a lot of hidden gems in this story as Will hears others say lines that he will write into his plays. What’s your favorite Shakespeare trivia moment in the show?

You’re right, there are a great deal of hidden quotes from a variety of Shakespearean classics, from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet. My favorite comes from “the Scottish play”—which superstition demands we not speak, but I can type—Macbeth! So, the contemporary playwright Stoppard has a dog running loose onstage, because “a bit with a dog” always pleases the Queen. However, the dog is taking over the action to a point where the producer barges on stage to grab the dog, shouting “Out, damn spot!” 

The center of this play is a romance of the minds as much as the bodies. Why does this particular play, and Will and Viola’s romance, work so well on stage?

The love in this play is first and foremost a love for words, for poetry, for the ideals of love. I think the universality of the play comes from out human yearning for love and our expression of that desire, even when—or especially when—it is unrequited.

Shakespeare in Love will have four more performances this weekend, November 1–3, at Tacoma Arts Live’s Theater on the Square. Tickets are available online.

Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, and others. Additional work can be seen at

Yang Zhen Finds Inspiration in Friends and Travel in ‘Minorities’

When Yang Zhen and I spoke on the phone in early October, Yang was quite literally burning the midnight oil. The choreographer was at home in Beijing, winding down after a late-night rehearsal for his latest evening-length piece, Minorities.

While Yang’s day was coming to an end, mine was just beginning. As we navigated time zones and language barriers, I asked Yang my most burning question: The marketing materials that Stanford Live put out call him a “boy wonder.” I wanted to know what that phrase meant to him.

“I don’t know why they’re calling me this,” he laughed. “Maybe I’m a genius for creation.” Despite his humble approach to his work, Yang is gearing up for an exciting step in Minorities’ journey: a North American tour spanning Toronto, Canada and Stanford, California. Over the course of our conversation, Yang spoke about why he, as part of the ethnic majority in China, felt so compelled to create a piece for and about minority identity.

Danielle Mohlman: So much of Minorities is about identity. What was your initial inspiration for the piece?

Yang Zhen: My university was the center of diversity in Beijing. There are a lot of different ethnic minorities in China―and many come to Minzu University to study. I had four years at that university and made a lot of friends who educated me on the tradition of minority dance. Because at my university, we learned the “official” dances of all these minority cultures and my friends would say, “Oh no. It’s very different from what you learned.”

When they came to Beijing, my friends had to change their lives and the way they behave. It’s very difficult and very sensitive. There are different ideas and different ways of talking―and it brought some contrast to my world.

From different cultural perspectives in China?

Yes. And then I went to Xinjiang, a province in western China, just to tour it. And I found that that city is not very different from my own home in Beijing. And then I went to Mongolia, I went to the Hunan Province. But my inspiration really started with those four years in university―from my friends. It made me want to talk about these themes.

Production Photo from ‘Minorities.’ Courtesy of artist

This performance at Stanford is the first time Minorities has been seen in the United States. What does it mean to be sharing your work―and this work in particular―with an American audience?

The identity I speak from―the Chinese society―has issues and problems that are very international. I think everywhere has identity problems. And I think America has their own identity problem. People from all over come to America. I’ve been to New York and it’s an amazing city. There’s freedom in the society. But it’s a very sensitive issue. I really like to take the subway to go everywhere. It’s very personal. I like to watch how people behave, and the details that they show in a public place.

With Minorities, I’m able to share the Chinese minorities with an American audience. Their lives, their hopes, their disappointments. The way they occupy this new generation. I think this is very, very universal.

The majority of your audience in California will be English-speaking. How does dance and your work transcend language?

Well first, we have body language.

Of course.

Minorities will of course have traditional dance from Chinese Koreans, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang Province and Macao. And you’ll see how the dance technique of these traditional dances interacts with the technique of acting and theatre. And the music is also very important. We have one section where the music is from the 1960s. And that dance style is very straight. Everyone has these set smiles―like robots. The dancing from that time was the national machine. Everyone had to be the same. It was totalitarian; that was the aesthetic. And then we go back to the traditional and soft dance. It’s like we are back in our university learning modern dance. Every look, ever contour is very, very soft.

Production Photo from ‘Minorities.’ Courtesy of artist

To go from that stiff totalitarian style to that soft flowing look―I bet that’s really beautiful to see.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everything has to be beautiful. And after 2008, after China hosted the Olympics, everyone really started to learn English. Everybody wanted to be international. So there’s this dance in Minorities that’s very much like a playground dance.

Oh fun!

It’s very fun. And you can see the whole identity of China covering the country.

Before I let you go, what are you most looking forward to about coming to California?

Oh, everyone in my group is so excited for this work to be in North America. We’re excited about the audience. We’re curious about how they think about China. The piece is more asking than answering, you know what I mean?

It comes with questions.

Yeah, yeah. Because we’re never really confused about who we are. But some days you wake up and you ask “Who am I?”

Minorities runs November 1 to 3 at Stanford Live. Tickets are available online or by calling 650.724.2464.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American TheatreThe Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

Kate Attwell Blends Women’s Athletics and Colonization in Her New Play, ‘Testmatch’

When I spoke with Testmatch playwright Kate Attwell on her second day of rehearsal at the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco, she was in a fight with jet lag. “I haven’t had breakfast yet, but I’ve had at least three cups of coffee,” Attwell shared. “I’ve literally been up since four thinking ‘When am I allowed to really be in the world?’”

The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is right now. Attwell, who identifies as “technically Irish,” spent most of her childhood in South Africa, Texas and England. After getting an MFA in Dramaturgy from Yale, Attwell moved to London, splitting her time between there and New York. So, the jet lag is understandable. As she acclimated to the West Coast, Attwell and I talked about sports, theatre, and why she’s making space for marginalized voices in her work.

Playwright Kate Attwell. Courtesy of A.C.T.

Danielle Mohlman: There’s something really powerful about using sports as a conduit onstage, especially for female-identifying playwrights. Can you talk to me about your relationship to cricket and why you chose this sport as you navigate themes of race, colonialism and gender?

Kate Attwell: I was watching some women’s cricket on television a couple years ago and it wasn’t a sport that I’d thought of in a long time. I hadn’t really thought about cricket since I was a kid. And I was watching a T20 [Twenty20] version of the sport, which is like a faster version of the sport. It’s super commercial and much more exciting than the traditional way that it’s played. And it just felt exciting to me to see women having that level of visibility in the sport and the way that it really is a calculated game. It’s also a dangerous game. The ball is intensely hard and comes at you really fast. The batswomen are wearing these war gear uniforms. We see that kind of attire in ice hockey or men playing American football. But that war gear on female bodies just felt really exciting to me. And now, this sport is essentially being played by what is, and was, this colonizing nation—and all of the nations that it historically colonized.

Because it’s huge in India.

It’s huge in India. Yeah yeah yeah. It’s an amazing sport there. The excitement around it is something that’s really wonderful to witness.

One thing that I noticed in the production credits is that A.C.T. has hired Radhika Rao as a cultural consultant—and I think that’s incredible to see, in the same way that I’m relieved to see an intimacy consultant involved with a play that has a lot of sexual content. Can you talk about the decision to bring her on board?

Yeah. Radhika is fantastic. She’s been with us since we did a workshop back at the beginning of the year. It’s been crucial to me in all the phases of development to have someone who’s holding that space in a completely authentic way. This is a very important story to be telling because I’m wanting to harshly interrogate—and critique—the colonial impulse, which plays out in so many different ways. It’s not just about India. It’s about that force of white supremacy and the way that it existed historically. It’s about looking at the historical narrative in order to look at where we are today. And having Radhika in the room has been crucial for the actors as well.

Cast and crew in rehearsal for 'Testmatch.'
Cast and crew in rehearsal for ‘Testmatch.’ Photo by Beryl Baker

Because oftentimes—you know, you’re talking about an intimacy consultant. That’s a very similar kind of thing, where historically we can over depend on actors having to bring their own understandings, their own dramaturgy, their own culture. And that we only rely on that. And that’s great if they want to share that. And I think the reason I love theatre is because I love working with actors. And letting them bring themselves to the role and letting them have an impact on it. That’s crucial. But also having somebody who’s not embodying it—to be able to authenticate and hold that space for them—feels super crucial too. It’s a necessity of the work.

You said you split your time between London and New York. What’s one thing American theatre can learn from England?

This may be a boring answer, but ticket prices. In London, I can always figure out how to see a show for £15. And that feels very manageable in a way that $50 or $70 is just ludicrous. And I think that allows theatre to be a living, breathing part of society and culture in a very different way. And that allows for experimentation and different ways to take risks.

Coming back to Testmatch: Do you have a favorite moment from rehearsal so far? Or something you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks?

Yeah, yesterday was my first day.

Director Pam MacKinnon and cast member Avanthika Srinivasan in rehearsal for 'Testmatch.'
Director Pam MacKinnon and cast member Avanthika Srinivasan in rehearsal for ‘Testmatch.’ Photo by Beryl Baker

And you’re still adjusting to the time zone.

Yeah, I’m just like “Where am I? Who am I? Who wrote this play?” But I’m really looking forward to everyone being able to get on their feet. I’m so impressed with Pam MacKinnon. She’s amazing so far. I love watching her. I feel completely comfortable as a writer.

There’s a trust there.

Yeah, exactly! And this is a very stylistic play. It’s a little bit Greek, it’s a little bit farce, it’s a little bit realism, it’s a little bit metatheatrical. It’s all of these different things. And now, being able to actually build those other things that the play is doing, is really exciting.

CORRECTION: October 31, 2019
A previous version of the article misstated that Kate Attwell holds a MFA in playwriting. She holds a MFA in dramaturgy.

Testmatch runs October 24 to December 8 at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at 415.749.2228.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American TheatreThe Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

Theatre22 is Revolutionizing Theatre and Inviting You to Join

Often in contemporary theatre, plays demonstrate the worst of humanity—in 2019 a tone of nihilism permeates society and by extension, the art that acts as a mirror.

However, Theatre22 is doing something a little different. They are opening their fifth season with a Festival of Revolution, which will include two plays—The Revolutionist and White—performed in rotation. With two these shows and with their larger mission, Theatre22 strives to celebrate hope and healing to the community through theatre.

We talk with the Founder and Producing Artistic Director Corey McDaniel about Theatre22’s vision and what to expect from their upcoming Festival.

Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Theatre22 Corey McDaniel. Photo Courtesy of Theatre22

Ciara Caya: Theatre22 is about to begin its fifth season, which makes it a relatively new theatre company. Did you see something that was missing in Seattle’s existing theatre offerings that you wanted to provide? 

Corey McDaniel: We in Seattle are blessed with an incredibly vibrant theatre scene and so many extremely talented theatre artists. Theatre22 came into being to create innovative ways to bring together many of these exceptional and underutilized artists to work on projects that made us excited and hopeful; that gave us energy to move forward; and that helped us channel our creative energies into making a positive impact on the world around us.

Rather than choosing scripts that wallow in the darkness around us, we want to explore ways to embrace the broken-ness of our humanity, but, ultimately, to move toward the light. As we identify in our mission statement, Theatre22 is committed to producing exceptional live theatre that engages a diverse community of artists and audiences, inspires new ways of interpreting the world around us, and celebrates hope and healing.

In addition to choosing plays that are constructive, Theatre22 focuses on works that discuss diversity and equity. What else, besides play selection, does Theatre22 do to ensure the productions are accessible for a diverse audience?

First and foremost, Theatre22 hopes to be deeply engaged with our community. Of course there is always more to do and there is never enough time or person-power! But we strive to listen and learn from those around us, to challenge ourselves and others to come to new understandings, and to continue to grow with our artists and our audience. We also strive to reach out to new people with every show and to personally connect with each person who comes through the door to let them know how important they are to our process. For us, it is all about connection. That is the joy of doing theatre! What could be more exciting and satisfying? 

Cast of 'White.' Shermona Mitchell, Jennifer Ewing, Tyler Rogers,and Christian Quinto.
Cast of ‘White.’ Shermona Mitchell, Jennifer Ewing, Tyler Rogers,and Christian Quinto. Photo by John Curry Photography

Speaking of the joy of theatre, let’s talk a little about Theatre22’s upcoming productions. Even though they take place over 200 years apart and in two different countries, The Revolutionists and White both examine the oppression of women and people of color. Why do you find it beneficial to pair these two plays together in a festival? What do you hope the audience gains from watching these plays in sequence?

A primary part of our vision is to do thought-provoking and belief-challenging works. Both of the plays in our festival fit this vision, in different ways. Both explore voices that have been undervalued and marginalized. Both ask questions about how we can make changes in our world to face the harsh realities of covert and overt violence. Both explore questions of art and activism, of feminism and intersectionality, of who gets to tell the story, and what does redemption look like. We believe that people will leave the theatre with good questions, and that the questions will inform each other and will ultimately help us be better witnesses to the people in the world who most need to be heard.

In addition to the two productions which will be performed during the Festival of Revolution, there will also be community events. Can you tell us a little more about these?

Because we are so excited about the ways audiences will respond to our productions, we are planning to bring artists and audiences together to engage in several post-play discussions during the run of our shows. We’re also excited to provide several opportunities to see both shows in one day and will have staff around to engage with audiences in between shows. In addition, we have reached out to a number of new communities, providing tickets and post-play gatherings to encourage dialogue both in the theatre and beyond. We’re always exploring new ways to connect and would love to hear from audiences both in person and in online conversation.

To join Theatre22 in the conversation, attend the Festival of Revolution. The Revolutionists and White will be running in rotation October 18–November 9 at 12th Avenue Arts. Single tickets and specially priced festival package tickets are available online.

Steven Dietz Will Never Stop Calling Seattle Home

Playwright Steven Dietz is so personable he doesn’t need an icebreaker. When I called him to talk about the upcoming production of Dracula at ACT Theatre, the first thing he wanted to talk about was my area code, a holdover from my Southern California hometown. I joked that I’d probably carry that area code with me for the rest of my life. And he echoed the same sentiment.

“As good as Austin has been to us, it’s always nice to see that 206 on my area code,” Dietz said. “I’ve had such profound good fortune in Seattle. I’ve been very lucky there. I’m always glad to get back to Seattle through all those changes, through all the hardships.” We talked about everything from his process of re-adapting Dracula to his passion for making room for the next generation of playwrights, but one thing rang through every moment of our conversation: Steven Dietz truly loves Seattle.

Danielle Mohlman: You originally wrote this adaptation of Dracula in 1994, but this production at ACT Theatre is being billed as a re-adaptation of your own play. What did that process look like for you? What does it mean to re-adapt your own play?

Steven Dietz: It’s funny. I have the script of the other adaptation here because I was trying to steal my own previous playwright’s note. (Laughs.) I wrote that adaptation of Dracula 25 years ago. It premiered at the Arizona Theatre Company in 1995 with a lot of Seattle connections—directed by David Goldstein, actors like David Pichette, Suzanne Bouchard and Peter Silbert. Bill Forrester did the set. So, I had all these amazing Seattle connections working on the premiere. And god bless that Dracula play. It’s been very good to me. And it’s not going away. That adaptation will remain in the Dramatists Play Service catalogue and will keep getting produced.

Playwright Steven Dietz. Photo by John Ulman

And what got us to this production at ACT is that John Langs wanted to do a show of mine. He knew I was coming up on the 30th anniversary of me coming to Seattle and the production of God’s Country in 1988. So, he said, “I want to do Dracula.” And John is a fantastic director and he’s also a fantastic showman. So, a piece like Dracula just hits all the sweet spots for him. And what I said to John is, “I think what I’d like to do, is go back to my existing adaptation and make another version.” I wanted to streamline it, tighten it. I’m a better storyteller now and I wanted to see if I could just squeeze it and shape it a little bit more.

The best analogy I can give you is this: when I wrote the original adaptation, I was sitting at my computer and to the left I had Bram Stoker’s book. This time, I was sitting at my desk and to my left I had my own published play.  

One thing that really stood out to me last time we spoke is how much you love Seattle actors. So, I have to know: what excites you about this Dracula cast in particular?

A handful of those actors are folks that I’ve worked with. Arjun Pande is just a unicorn, right? There’s not another Arjun. Like, what the heck? And most of my experience, of course, with Basil Harris is doing these multiple productions of Go, Dog, Go! We’ve done it at the Seattle Children’s Theatre and so many other places. So, they’re actors I really admire.

John seems to find these actors—and Seattle seems to produce these actors—that have emotional power, but with a performative edge. There’s a particular style rooted in just enough psychological realism. But there’s a performative edge that’s not navel-gazing. Seattle actors don’t, you know, have the same reputation as Chicago actors being sort of brawling actors. This is a little too black and white, I know. But Seattle actors—their performances don’t go down inside their character. They go out and they’re elastic and they’re effervescent. I use this phrase when I direct in other cities: “As we say in Seattle, better strong and wrong than slight and right.” Give me strong and wrong. We can work with that. We can settle that up later. There’s a lack of caution among so many Seattle actors and I just adore it.

Steven Dietz’s other plays that have been performed at ACT.

Switching gears off Dracula for a little bit—

Please, please. I need a break! (Laughs)

In addition to all of these long-term collaborations you have with ACT, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Rep and others, you also recently joined the nominating committee for the Emerald Prize at Seattle Public Theater. How does championing emerging playwrights factor into your life and your career?

I’ve been lucky enough to teach playwriting and directing masterclasses for years—even before having the full-time appointment at UT Austin. I was the very fortunate recipient early on in my career of mentorship from writers who were a little bit ahead of me in terms of age. August Wilson, Lee Blessing, Barbara Field. The mentorship I received from them, just by example, was crucial to me becoming a playwright. And I think we may be in a golden age of playwriting. I think we absolutely have a wealth of young and emerging talent.

And I take the responsibility very seriously. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to make our living in this business have to make room for other writers. Our legacy will be: how did we leave the theatre? And who did we leave the theatre to?

And I think it’s our responsibility to foster that and curate that and not just wring it out like a sponge—or pull up the drawbridge behind us. I’m borrowing this art form. I don’t own this. I’m just passing through. With my MFA playwriting students, I loved when they had better ideas than mine—and more vibrant ideas.

So, I think the Emerald Prize is great. All of those awards out there are signals that the field is hungry for new work. But I don’t think it’s enough. It’s my hope that there are six, eight, ten Seattle playwrights who will get to have these ongoing relationships with the same theatres that I have. And how that happens is a much harder conversation. But one way it can happen is for those of us in a more senior position to make some noise about emerging writers. I just hope the next generation blows my generation out of the water.

Steven Dietz’s re-adaptation of Dracula will play at ACT Theatre October 18–November 17. Tickets are available online.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American TheatreThe Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

We’re Celebrating 50 Years of Arts, Culture and Community

For the past fifty years, it has been our pleasure to provide audiences with performance programs, festival guides and magazines that reflect and enhance the organizations of our community.

Although you may not know it, Encore has published many of the programs that you’ve read at performances throughout the Greater Seattle Area and the San Francisco Bay Area. Encore has become an established partner to arts organizations throughout these communities, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary, we talk to the president of Encore, Paul Heppner, about Encore’s history, its purpose, and the arts communities Encore serves.  

Ciara Caya: Fifty years is quite the milestone. Can you tell me a bit about how Encore was founded?

Paul Heppner: My dad, Philbrook Heppner, loved music, arts and, most of all, the opera. After having worked as an architect, he made a career change that brought his passion for the arts to fill a need in the Portland performing arts scene by launching Encore Magazine for the Arts. That quickly evolved into the programs for Portland Opera and Encore arts programs.

Partnerships with arts organizations are essential to your business—how did those relationships start?

Librettos and theatre programs were commonplace, especially in Europe where my dad collected many souvenir programs. Creating programs (typesetting, layout and printing) in those days was extremely labor intensive and performing arts organizations were not set up to handle the production necessary, so a mutually beneficial service model was developed.

Publisher and President of Encore Paul Heppner

Having worked with Encore since you were a young man, you’ve seen better than most the changes that have occurred in Seattle’s arts community—the good and the bad. How has Encore adapted amongst these changes?

We were just talking about this the other day—when I arrived in Seattle in 1985, state of the art was an IBM Selectric typewriter! The outstanding thing to note over the years has been the appreciable growth in depth and quality of the performing arts, as well as the breadth and sophistication of the respective audiences.

Interestingly enough, even with the advent of the internet in our data driven world, the theatre program has remained a cherished part of the live performance experience. Unlike the mass media (print, digital or electronic) attending a live performance is enhanced by simply turning the pages and reading a program that gives you compelling and thoughtful content about the people and the performances—it truly can make the event transformative.

As the publisher of arts organizations’ programs, Encore is usually (pardon the pun) behind the scenes. In what other ways are you and Encore involved with the Seattle community and with the arts organizations you partner with?  

We’re extremely proud to have had the privilege to work with, and support through our work, numerous organizations outside the performing arts world. Last year we were an integral part of a team of committed arts leaders to work with Seattle Foundation to transition and insure the future of GiveBIG (the annual day of philanthropy). We’ve been long-time supporters and fans of SIFF and believe in our work with, and support of Seattle Pride. This year we were thrilled to begin working with Seafair and all that it represents to our city and region. Over the years we’ve also provided support to smaller organizations—one of our favorites is Music4Life because of its impact on the lives of young people in our public schools.

So, now that you have the first 50 under your belt, what’s on stage for the next 50?

We’ve learned that the fulcrum for evolving our business centers on providing services that connect the arts, culture and our community. We recognize and are excited to play a leading role in supporting the great works of organizations that are transforming and building this region. We believe that finding smart ways to integrate media in meaningful ways for consumers is key, and we are focused on developing products and programs that expand and enhance opportunities for all of our stakeholders. We’ve recently launched to start addressing the distressing lack of arts coverage in major media. Through this website we are also continuing our work with youth, having partnered in part with the amazing Press Corps at TeenTix to provide both a platform (in print and digitally) for these amazing young journalists.

Hosting the Tiny Tots Concert Series at the Seattle Symphony is a Return to Musical Childhood Memories

When John Turman moved to Seattle in 2015, hosting the Tiny Tots concert series was the furthest thing from his mind. He’d just graduated from Rice University and, after deciding to turn down a principal horn position at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, joined the horn section at the Seattle Symphony.

Now entering his fifth season with the Symphony and his second season as the Tiny Tots concert series host, this Austin native is happy to now call Seattle home. “There’s just an action and activism that I feel here in Seattle,” Turman said. “And politically, it’s amazing. I hear more voices here than anywhere else.”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Turman just before the start of the 2019-20 Seattle Symphony season about his role as a host, and how that role has deepened his understanding of early childhood education.

Danielle Mohlman: The Tiny Tots concerts are geared toward children ages zero to five, a demographic typically left out of symphony performances. How did you become involved in this concert series as a host? What drew you into this age group?

John Turman: When Amy Heald, our associate director of collaborative learning, joined the Seattle Symphony a couple of years ago, she said “Let’s bring some of these Symphony musicians onstage for these kids.” It was an age we were kind of missing out on. Because they absolutely can understand and have fun and recognize the musicians. And we really wanted to change things up with our Tiny Tots programming, so we kind of scrapped the entire thing and started from the ground up. And we started writing our own scripts. Our main thing is it’s all based on really great music. We wanted to program some pieces with substantial weight in the classical cannon—because there are so many pieces that not only the kids can enjoy, but the parents as well.

And just knowing that learning classical music early on helps with complex processing later in life. And not pandering and saying that this is “children’s music.” Because all music can be children’s music.

Exactly. It’s this cognitive development cycle that Amy [Heald] educated me about when she brought me on to host. Danielle Kuhlmann was the first host of this structure of Tiny Tots that we’re using right now. We had a woodwind quintet play a show and then Danielle read a book to go along with this composition. And then the next year, Amy approached me and asked if I wanted to host. And I said yes, of course.

John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert.
John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert. Photo by James Holt

I love music education and I come from a background, you know, Texas high school—really solid music educators. I’ve known a lot of great educators throughout my life and I’m very grateful and privileged to have had that. And so I’m really excited to give that back in this way. I’m still performing and people know that I play in the Symphony and that’s part of the fun. I’m like the friend who says, “Here’s what things are really like in the Symphony.” And these kids are all zero to five and I’m like, “You guys belong here just as much as the adults do.”


So Amy and I started brainstorming. It was her idea to do standard chamber music pieces, so we have a woodwind quintet for one show, a brass quintet for another, a percussion trio and a string quartet. And the final concert is a big chamber orchestra.

Bringing it all together.

Yeah, exactly. So now we have this whole program where the kids will see every instrument represented on stage throughout the Tiny Tots series. Which is so much different than what we were doing before. And we’re so excited because people really do enjoy that. They enjoy taking their kids to see a show for thirty minutes and they enjoy the programming. And I hope they enjoy the characters that we get introduced to. I’m usually always wearing some type of sequined garment—something that’s visually appealing. Stimuli is a big thing in their life right now. Sequins are golden. Sequins are the key here.

Switching gears a little bit: when did you first discover your passion for music. Do you remember how old you were?

I do. I remember the exact moment. It was when my Grandpa Tom took me into the music store in Austin, Texas and bought me a three-quarter size classical guitar. I was seven. And I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m Stevie Ray Vaughan over here.” And then he bought me a guitar book. And it was just when I was learning how to read, so I learned how to tune the guitar myself, and I learned how to read the first three lines of the treble clef. That moment of getting that guitar and making sound on my own for the first time was something that really, really drove home that I wanted to do this. I wanted to learn this. And both my parents were in the Longhorn Band [at the University of Texas, Austin] that’s how they met.

John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert.
John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert. Photo by James Holt


Yeah. And then band started for me in sixth grade. And at the instrument petting zoo, the shortest line was for the French horn. And I thought it was really cool. And my Aunt Betty Lou said, “You know, John, this is the most challenging instrument in the orchestra.” And I said, “Oh I can’t back down from a challenge.” And I had some incredible music educators. My band director got me a CD of the Canadian Brass and The Planets.

Oh, I love The Planets.

Right? It just kind of triggered my hunger. It really just activated the nerd inside. I loved organizing chamber music ensembles with my friends. And then I was drum major in high school and I loved being that kind of role model for band kids. And, you know, being in band is hard. Being in high school is hard. And I was happy to be a friend and mentor to a lot of people through that.

The Tiny Tots concert series at the Seattle Symphony begins on October 4 and 5 with The Percussion: 5, 6, Pick Up Sticks and continuing on with The Brass: March of the Toys on December 6 and 7. A full schedule and tickets for this season’s Tiny Tots concerts can be found online.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Opens Their Season With Two Musical Powerhouses

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana choreographed by Kent Stowell is a visual extravaganza where a 2,500-pound golden wheel rotates above more than 100 dancers, musicians and singers. The second work, Agon, marks a high point in the partnership between choreographer George Balanchine and composer Igor Stravinsky. We talked to Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou about the musical challenges and payoffs of this evening at the ballet.

Rosemary Jones: This particular version of Orff’s Carmina Burana was choreographed by Kent Stowell for the opening season of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. What do you think of it today?

Emil de Cou: People forget that that Carmina Burana was originally done as a piece of theatre. I’ve done it as a symphony concert many times, but when you add dance, lights, costumes and a set, then it is a rare opportunity to see it as Orff meant it to be seen. I love what Kent did. The piece is one of the trickiest and the best that we do at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou. Photo by Griffin Harrington

During rehearsals, what’s your most frequent reminder to the orchestra and the singers?

Use the language! I remind them that even if you don’t understand the words, the audience needs to understand the text as written; that the sound of the word adds excitement. There’s the very loud opening of “O Fortuna” and then it gets very hushed and quiet. The trill of the “r” and the hard “t”, that makes it sound that much more sinister and spooky. The orchestra plays this brilliantly. We have the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union as the chorus again. We also had them last November for Jupiter Ascending. They are so beautiful to hear and a real joy to work with.

You have spoken about the responsibility of a ballet conductor to support the dancers, to the point of changing up your conducting in response to what’s happening in a live performance. In conducting the choir and the orchestra while musically supporting the dancers on stage, are there any particular moments in Carmina Burana that are especially tricky?

It’s not like we’re doing Swan Lake or Romeo where I can change on a dime. It’s very much in the Balanchine aesthetic where the music comes first. So, what we can do [as an orchestra] is more fine tuning. There’s “In Taberna” where  all the men are on stage, very rhythmic and bawdy. Rhythmically the composer has taken a lot of ideas of Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring, creating neo-primitive music. Orff goes back to this primitive prehistory music idea where everything is based on rhythm. Right after that is the “Cour d’amours,” which feels like very idealized Debussy harmonies. It’s very yin and yang, as we are going from bawdy, boisterous drunkenness to the female soloist on stage. It’s also very fun to perform.

PNB principal dancer Lesley Rausch in 'Agon.'
PNB principal dancer Lesley Rausch in ‘Agon.’ Photo by Angela Sterling

Part of the excitement of Carmina is having the choir visible and suspended over the stage. What are some of the challenges of that staging and having them almost as far away from you as possible?

The chorus is located up against the back wall, about 20 feet above the stage, and wearing hoods. They can’t hear each other well. They do have their music, but it is lit very dimly. The staging is against all the things that choruses are used to doing. It’s really tricky.

When do you know for certain that it is going to work out and be a great night of music and dance?

I feel like that when the “O Fortuna” comes back. Up to that moment there’s umpteen things that could go wrong, and as a conductor, you can’t let your guard down. When the soprano sings this very high “D” that seems to come out of nowhere, you can tell that you’re there.

PNB principal dancers Lindsi Dec and Seth Orza with company dancers in 'Carmina Burana.'
PNB principal dancers Lindsi Dec and Seth Orza with company dancers in ‘Carmina Burana.’ Photo by Angela Sterling

So how do you feel about the pairing of Carmina Burana and Balanchine’s Agon?

They are polar opposites. Carmina is like a Cecil B. DeMille epic on stage. Agon is very distilled. Agon is a masterpiece of Stravinsky’s but it doesn’t work as an abstract concert piece like Carmina. With Agon you need the dancers. The piece doesn’t come to life without that element. There’s this one moment where the audience always bursts into this huge cheering—and I think that’s the only time that a 12-tone composition gets huge ovation. Because it’s in the middle of Agon and because people listen with their eyes at the ballet.

Carmina Burana and Agon are opening Pacific Northwest Ballet’s season as a double-bill performance showing September 27–October 6. Tickets are available online.

Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, and others. Additional work can be seen at

SF Opera Borrows the Jumbo Screen at Oracle Park

It takes a lot of people to put on a show, and that’s never more true than San Francisco Opera’s annual partnership with the San Francisco Giants for Opera at the Ballpark. Returning on September 21 to Oracle Park, this year’s simulcast will be Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.

Transmitting in high definition live from the stage of the War Memorial Opera House to the new 71-foot high Mitsubishi Electronic Diamond Vision Board, the Romeo and Juliet simulcast will be 50 feet wider and 20 feet higher than the former board. Since 2006, the partnership between the Giants and San Francisco Opera has brought an incredible free arts experience to over 300,000 people of all ages.

To answer such vital questions as the best place to sit and the best snack to munch, we turned to San Francisco Opera’s Managing Director, Production and Simulcast Executive Producer Jennifer Good; Simulcast Producer and Content Coordinator Jeremy Patfield; and Simulcast Producer and Logistics Coordinator Jodi Gage.

Jodi Gage, Jennifer Good, and Jeremy Patfield. Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Rosemary Jones: What are some of the technical challenges of doing a live simulcast to the largest movie screen in San Francisco?

Jennifer Good: At the opera house we always get to rehearse in the weeks leading up to the first live performance. So overall, we find that we have to exercise our “wing it” muscles since we have limited time to run through all the technical factors during our single load-in day and the day of the simulcast.  We’re really grateful to the San Francisco Giants for their expertise as we transition into their venue!

Do you change any of the blocking of the opera for the cameras?

Jennifer Good: Once a production opens at San Francisco Opera, we try to keep things as consistent as possible for the singers and other cast members. So though we may make some slight tweaks in the staging if absolutely necessary for the simulcast performance, we have to do that before we record the preceding performance as our back-up. We do make lighting adjustments to optimize the ballpark crowd’s experience, but we’re careful not to compromise the artistic integrity of what the audience at the opera house sees.

Sound is always a concern for opera lovers. How does this sound in the ballpark? Any suggestions on the best place to sit for the maximum effect?

Jeremy Patfield: We have to give a huge shout out to our generous partner, Meyer Sound!  They provide us with the highest quality sound equipment for use at Oracle Park, which we test for hours leading up to the simulcast performance. Also, many of our IATSE Local 16* sound crew have years of experience with live concerts in big venues along with their expertise with opera and the more intimate theatre setting of the War Memorial Opera House. We synchronize the sound and visual elements at Oracle Park so that they are aligned at home plate. We feel like every seat in the stadium is a great seat from which to watch and listen!

Opera at the Ballpark 2017. Photo by Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

For the audience, how close is this to what they would experience in the opera house?

Jeremy Patfield: We’d like to think that the powerful singing, storytelling and production values are as intense and meaningful in the ballpark as they are at the opera house. It’s the live audience in both locations that amplifies the energy that the performers bring to the stage and screen.

So, what’s the best Oracle Park snack for pairing with Romeo and Juliet: garlic French fries or hot dogs?

Jodi Gage: Well, this is a French opera after all.  So one would think that people might lean toward the French fries. But we’ve heard that the Capulets won’t eat the same snack as the Montagues, so we think the hot dogs still have a fighting chance.

How family friendly is this opera and this event?

Jennifer Good: The opera Romeo and Juliet and the simulcast event are both perfect for families!  This is one of the most well-known stories in the world and it touches on many themes that resonate in today’s world. Parents can give their children an introduction to the story of the fated young couple in advance, in so many ways, since there are countless modern accountings of Shakespeare’s play.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra in Gounod's ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra in Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photo by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

What’s the best part of this annual event for San Francisco Opera?

Jodi Gage: The audience! It’s really such an amazing chance for us to bring opera to our community in such a fun, casual setting at Oracle Park with our great partner, the San Francisco Giants!

*Editor’s Note: IATSE Local 16 is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada.

San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Giants present Opera at the Ballpark, a free live simulcast of Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (Roméo et Juliette), on Saturday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Oracle Park. The event is free and open to the public, but advance online registration is recommended. Register at Entrance to the stadium begins at 5:30 p.m.

Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, and others. Additional work can be seen at